Ben Affleck's Daredevil has become a punchline, the butt of a 12-year joke that has been given new life thanks to the Netflix adaptation and the birth of Batfleck. The thing is, Daredevil is not the terrible movie its crushing reputation would have you believe. As Rolling Stone wrote in its 2003 review: Daredevil is "deeply, depressingly average." But you know what? Average is fine! Average isn't always a bad thing. It's satisfying, but not necessarily memorable or outstanding. Average is palatable, serviceable and, dare I say, enjoyable.
People love to hate on Daredevil for being a disappointment or a missed opportunity. But for those of us who didn't grow up on the comics, we weren't saddled with any big expectations and therefore, we were free to enjoy Daredevil for what it is: an entertaining, if not necessarily competent, movie.
I call Daredevil incompetent because the film has so many moving threads that never quite come together in any satisfying way. As Paul Scheer said in the How Did This Get Made episode on the film, "It feels like that unfinished puzzle on the table." If you start attempting to deconstruct the plot of the film, the whole thing quickly falls apart. (Though, the extended director's cut is notably better at developing an actual story.)
Daredevil is a movie that only skates across the surface of all its various plots, and I'm fine with that. Mainly, because Daredevil is a fairly decent rom-com sandwiched between three underdeveloped action movies. When I first saw it, I was 13 and completely enraptured by the romance between Matt and Elektra (Jennifer Garner). Now, 12 years later, it's easily still my favorite part. I even find their playground fight meet-cute extremely charming, despite the fact it looks like they're doing a So You Think You Can Dance routine at half-speed rather than a blockbuster action sequence.
Regardless of what you think of Affleck's acting, that fact that he and his future wife managed to have easy chemistry despite the film's clunky writing is a real achievement, and one that all rom-com vets know far too well. (When Elektra told Matt, "I wish you could see me tonight," I wanted to shake her and scream, "THAT IS A TERRIBLE THING TO SAY TO A BLIND MAN!" Yet somehow, I immediately forgave her.) And the scene in which Matt discusses his relationship with Elektra while Foggy shoots hoops is so classic 2000s rom-com that if you stay really quiet, you can actually hear Matthew McConaughey whisper "Frost yourself" in the background.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on Elektra's evolution from love interest to nemesis and back again, Daredevil throws everything but the kitchen sink and Stilt Man into the mix. Matt's origin story. Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin. Colin Farell as Bullseye. Jon Favreau as Foggy. Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich. Ellen Pompeo in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance as Karen Page. Even Kevin Smith makes a cameo to deliver the greatest sight gag in the whole film.
All these disparate aspects give the film an unwieldy scope and an uneven tone. There are moments when Matt's human vulnerability gives it a nice sense of grounding, only to be immediately followed by the pure camp of Farrell. Toss in some low-rent Matrix-inspired CGI, Catholic guilt and a noir beat reporter, and we're still only beginning to scratch the surface of the different features battling against each other within Daredevil.
I'm not going to get into the behind-the-scenes drama that played into these bizarre choices (you can read more about that here), because at the end of the day, knowing why certain failures occurred doesn't make them any more pleasant to watch. However — and I know I'm the minority in this — I find Daredevil's narrative instability dully inoffensive. I know nothing in the film really makes sense, but I can't find the energy to care. Maybe because Daredevil is such a time capsule of 2003, right down to the Evanescence-heavy soundtrack, I'm merely blinded by nostalgia.
When I re-watched Daredevil I was instantly transported back in time - back to when people were really into sh---- rock music, back to when we were still so excited by everything computers could do, back to when I didn't care about whether a movie was smart or feminist or subversive. I was just happy to see the guy from Mallrats grind down a railing using a human being as a skateboard and then get his ass kicked by the star of Alias. (Both of which are still quite enjoyable, by the way.)
Is Daredevil a great movie? No. It's not even a great superhero movie. But it's fun and full of interesting idiosyncrasies that set it apart from so many other superhero origin stories where you can predict every little beat before it happens. "They weep, they grow, they astonish, they overcome, they remain vulnerable, and their enemies spend inordinate time on wardrobe, grooming and props, and behaving as if their milk of human kindness has turned to cottage cheese," Roger Ebert bemoaned of the predictability of superhero origin movies, before adding, "Some of their movies, like [Daredevil], are better than others."
Because you know what? Sometimes average is good enough.